At around 6:10 on the evening of October 27, 1878 thieves broke into the Manhattan Savings Institution at Broadway and Bleecker Street and made off with $3.5 million in cash and securities – approximately $50 million by today’s standards. It was the most sensational bank robbery in US history.
The bank moved into temporary offices in 1889 while the old structure at 644 Broadway was razed and construction started on the new one. For the new headquarters, Hatch used a harmonious mix of Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival styles and a medley of materials: carved and rusticated sandstone, terra cotta, brick, copper and cast iron. Hatch took advantage of the corner site, crowning the building with a copper-clad tower visible for blocks from either Broadway or Bleecker.
Photograph Hubert J. Steed
The façade is a visual feast of bays, pseudo-balconies, pilasters, arches and small-bracketed courses. In the pediment of the Broadway side the Institute’s monogram, MSI, stands in bold copper relief. In a drastic diversion from traditional European decorative motifs – gods and goddesses, or allegories of continents or the arts, for instance – Hatch turned to the uniquely American. Beavers, ears of corn, and Native American faces adorn the keystones and cornices.
Depositors were no doubt interested in the burglar-proof sales and vaults given the somewhat recent history of the institution.
The Manhattan Savings Institute eventually became defunct and the Bleecker Street neighborhood became industrial. By the 1970s, after decades of neglect, the building was in severe disrepair. Stonework was disengaging from the façade and pieces falling to the sidewalk below.
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